All too often, in our overly sexualized culture, when teenagers declare they are in love, what they really mean is the hormones are raging and they are in heat. At first, this retro movie set in the 70s during the gas shortage in Hollywood, seems to be just another story like that. But in fact it is not just a story about sexual frisson. For one thing, the girl is in her mid to late 20s, and the boy is somewhere around 15 or so, and is a child actor wanting to go into business and do his own thing. And we are dealing with a movie in which the two leads have never ever starred in a movie before, and the cameo appearances by persons like Bradley Cooper and Sean Penn do not in anyway steal the show.
This is a quite real boy meets girl and falls for her story, a love story, with a lot of uncertainties factored in and along the way. This is perhaps Paul Thomas Anderson’s best and least quirky film thus far and it keeps us interested for all of its 2 hours and 13 minutes. Will the two protagonists stop being twerps and antagonists and get it together in the end— you’ll have to see the film to find out. The film has somewhat of a grain deja vu look quite deliberately, and for those of us who remember that period of time, with rotary phones and loud clothes and short short skirts, it seems like a blast from the past that one remembers not least because some of the best music of the period is sampled throughout the film (the Doors, Bowie, Cher, Blood Sweat and Tears and more).
There is a reason why this film has been nominated for one of the best films of the year. It captures a slice of life that seems real in various ways, and does it with a smile and some humor. We are rooting for Gary and Alana throughout, even when they make dumb remarks and dumb mistakes, which of course is all too typical of young people awkwardly trying to get themselves into adult life and a lasting relationship. This movie is rated R due entirely to language as there are no nude or sex scenes and no real violence in it either… and it is refreshing when the central characters don’t immediately jump into bed with one another, unlike in many recent films. The closest one comes is when they lie on a water bed in a store fully clothed and touch hands.
As for the title Licorice Pizza, that may not be something to your taste and the title hardly describes the movie itself, but this movie grows on you as it rolls along and you may find it quite filling, fun and good spirited. Well done Mr. Anderson.